History of VMware: Evolution Timeline

10 min readNov 30, 2021


VMware vSphere is a worldwide leader that delivers virtualization services to numerous companies around the globe. Since 1998, VMware has evolved from a small family startup to a global enterprise. Throughout the years, VMware developed innovative features that help thousands of businesses around the world run their virtual infrastructures. Let’s take a brief look at the concept of virtualization and the history of VMware vSphere.

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The Concept of Virtualization

The appearance of virtualization technology can be credited to IBM. Back in the 1960s, IBM’s Jim Rymarczyk worked on the idea of running several applications on one physical machine. The idea behind virtualization was to minimize the amount of hardware resources by running multiple apps on a single device. The concept of a virtual machine (VM) came about out of necessity — multiple users needed simultaneous access to the same computer. A VM running on a hypervisor had its own simple operating system (OS) and could support a single user.

1998 — VMware, Inc. is launched

VMware was founded in 1998 in Palo Alto, California. The virtual solution was developed by a small team of scientists — Diane Green, Mendel Rosenblum, Edouard Bugnion, Scott Devine, Edward Wang and Stanford students. The team employed the original concept of virtualization to develop an innovative product, VMware.

According to Mendel Rosenblum, the history of VMware started at Stanford. Rosenblum and his graduate students were trying to create a supercomputer. During the project, they attempted to use virtualization to run various operating systems. The project was a success and attracted outside interest, and at that point Rosenblum and his students thought they could take it public. Diane Green, a computer scientist and Rosenblum’s wife, led the VMware company from day one.

Photos of VMware’s team. VMware

The bigger purpose of VMware software

The main goal of VMware was to establish more effective ways of running a data center. In a 2007 interview, the founder of VMware Mendel Rosenblum discussed the need for more innovative and practical methods for storing data:

“What you had was people placing services on servers in a way that led to lightly loaded machines that were idle most of the time. The whole thing was built for peak performance (and not maximum utilization). Well, idle machines use as much energy as fully utilized machines. The way out of this is to put more on the machines, and get them to be more efficient and take on the work load that will, to some extent, lower the power consumption.”

Thus, the main purpose of the VMware product was to conserve hardware resources by placing more workload on the individual computer. This could save energy, space, and expenses as well as hardware resources.

1999 — First VMware product

The first VMware product was VMware 1.0. It could run multiple operating systems on a single computer. To run VMware 1.0 you needed:

  • A Pentium II 266MHz processor
  • 64 MB of memory

With VMware 1.0 you could run:

  • MS-DOS 6
  • Windows 95 and 98
  • Windows NT
  • Red Hat 5.0
  • SuSE Linux 5.3
  • FreeBSD 2.2.8; 3.0; 3.1

Back in 1999, VMware 1.0 supported VMs with up to 2 GB of RAM.

2002 — First hypervisor: ESX Server 1.5

VMware ESX Server 1.5 was first released in 2002. The VMware ESX Server enabled a user to run multiple VM servers with different OSs on a single piece of hardware. This significantly reduced storage space and hardware expenses. With ESX Server 1.5, you could:

  • Save hardware resources
  • Deliver services more efficiently
  • Increase production speed
  • Isolate critical data
  • Ensure quick disaster recovery
  • Develop, share and test software
  • Manage data and resources remotely
  • Automate the infrastructure
  • Conveniently share and distribute data

The architecture of the ESX Server was as follows:

  1. X 86 architecture. CPU, Memory, Disk, NIC.
  2. VMware Virtualization layer. VM Kernel VMware — runs directly on a host server and talks directly to your physical resources such as memory, processors, network controllers and storage.
  3. Operating Systems. Windows 2000, Windows NT and Linux.
  4. Applications
  5. Console OS. Administrative interface and bootstrap manager that runs on Linux.

Back in the day, the ESX Server 1.5 could run up to 64 virtual machines! And each VM could hold up to 3.6 GB of RAM.

ESX interface. VMware

2002 — First patent, #6397242

In 2002, Scott Devine, Mendel Rosenblum and Edouard Bugnion received legal acknowledgment for their invention — U.S. patent #6397242. The patent included a system that could virtualize a computer. The system included:

  • A hardware processor and memory
  • A virtual machine monitor (hypervisor)
  • A virtual machine

Every VM has a virtual processor that is connected to a hypervisor to run instructions. The VMware product is designed for virtual environments that have the x86 architecture. The invention provides virtualization by using direct execution methods in combination with binary translation. The need for binary translation arose from the fact that not all kernel code could be understood by virtual hardware. Yet, by using binary translation, you can replace non-virtualizable elements with code that virtual hardware can understand. At the same time, direct execution involves sending user code directly to the processor.

2003 — VMware introduces vMotion

Downtime can be a frustrating event for any business. VMware tackled the downtime issue in 2003 by introducing vMotion. vMotion enables real-time travel of a virtual machine from one host to the other. In case of a physical machine failure or another incident, you can always transfer your VM to a different host and run your environment from there. During the transfer, your VM remains running, allowing for no downtime whatsoever. When transferring your VM, you transfer all of the related components, including:

  • CPU
  • Network adaptors
  • Disk adaptors
  • Networking and SCSI
  • Physical memory

In the early history of vMotion, you could move your VM from one ESXi host to another within a short distance, e.g. 150 miles. The migration itself is a fast process, with an average time of 6 seconds. However, the total transfer time from initiation to full completion is about 11 minutes. Today, you can move your VMs across long distances and even between continents. The other innovations of vMotion over the years include:

  • vMotion streams
  • Removal of shared storage
  • Encryption during migration
  • Storage vMotion
  • Long distance vMotion
  • Migration of replicated VMs

2003 — VMware releases vCenter 1.0

vCenter is a centralized instance that allows you to manage your VM environments from a single interface. With the help of vCenter, you can:

  • Use vMotion to run your VMs
  • Distribute resources to reduce workload
  • Restart your machines on other hosts
  • Ensure continuous workflow with no downtime
  • Automate your VM processes
  • Manage your compliance policies
  • Monitor your VM storage
  • Integrate physical and virtual tools

vCenter offers more agility to companies and helps them save money. The first vCenter app was released by VMware in 2003. It had many issues that needed to be improved. But since then, the application has advanced and acquired even more useful features.

2003 — VMware goes global

In 2003, VMware did business overseas for the first time by opening a VMware office in Frimley, UK. After that, the VMware product became known worldwide. In 2004, VMware organized its first conference, which was held in San Diego, California. Back then, 1,400 people attended the conference. This number has increased up to 20,000 during the 2017 VMware conference in Las Vegas and Barcelona. In 2005, VMware expanded to Asia, opening more offices in China (Beijing) and India (Bangalore). The number of VMware employees globally also increased, reaching 20,000 in 2017. In 2006, VMware opened an office in Ireland with only five employees. Today, this office has around 1,000 members.

VMware’s Cork Office in Ireland. VMware

2004 — EMC acquires VMware

Hardware and software giant EMC bought out VMware in 2004 for $635 million. The VMware purchase was undoubtedly the right decision for EMC, since the VMware technology in 2004 showed great potential for future growth. The director of EMC, Joe Tucci, said:

“I’m 59 years old and VMware is the best investment I made in my life.”

In 2008, the leadership of VMware changed. Diane Green left her duties and Paul Maritz took over the company., Then in 2015, EMC was purchased by Dell for $67 billion.

2007 — VMware goes public

Under the EMC leadership, 10% of VMware was sold to the public in 2007. The beginning price of the share was $29. By the end of the day, it had gone up to $51, for a total of $19.1 billion. Obviously, that was a great result, and EMC’s investment in VMware turned out to be the right thing. Today, VMware’s price per share ranges between $157–159.

VMware goes public in 2007. VMware

2009 — The launch of VMware vSphere

In 2009, VMware launched a new platform, VMware vSphere. VMware vSphere provided a more comprehensive and integrated solution compared to the previous VMware solution. Over the years, VMware vSphere has had multiple upgrades, and now it offers over 20 features. In 2009, VMware received the Wall Street Technology Innovation Award in the software category. Since 2009, VMware has grown into a prominent leader in virtualization, serving thousands of customers around the globe. Today, VMware is valued by many companies worldwide for its speedy and highly efficient approach to data management.

2013 — The launch of NSX and vSAN

As you virtualize your computer, you can also virtualize your networks. NSX, released in 2013, allows you to create software-defined networks in virtual data centers. Virtual networks are abstracted from hardware, meaning that all networking elements such as switches, routers, firewalls and other parts of the network are entirely virtual. NSX is known for its unique micro-segmentation approach. Micro-segmentation separates VMs and VM components and then provides services and security policies for every separated element. The traditional approach for accessing virtual networks is performed by means of a physical router and edge gateway. This approach can be inconvenient and time-consuming. On the other hand, micro-segmentation implements a distributed firewall built into a hypervisor. You can set security policies and parameters for your VM environment in the distributed firewall. And you can control the rules and policies via the objects of Active Directory Domain Controller (ADDC).

Virtual Storage Area Network (vSAN) consolidates a hardware storage appliance into a single virtual solution. Your VMs can access the vSAN at any time and use storage components to keep your environment up and running, bringing your potential downtime to a minimum. With vSAN, you can also manage your storage policies, encrypt critical data and healthmonitor vSan clusters.

2015 — Dell acquires EMC along with VMware

In 2015, Dell purchased EMC and thus acquired VMware. As VMware became a part of the large enterprise, VMware’s goals also grew bigger. VMware became socially involved in global projects. One of them is Carbon Neutrality, an environmental project that attempts to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions around the world. In 2016, VMware became a part of Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud, enabling you to run your VMware environments along with AWS services.

In 2017, VMware introduced VMware PKS. This software was designed to manage your container services even more efficiently. Since 2015, VMware has gained enormous popularity. And, by 2021, VMware is ready to become a standalone company.


The ingenious idea of hosting multiple OSs and entire servers on a single machine proved to be practical and was implemented by multiple enterprises. Several solutions were proposed to run applications with different OSs concurrently on the same system. But the idea proposed by the VMware team turned out to be one of the most successful. VMware incorporated direct execution along with binary translation to virtualize all components of the hardware. The solution worked out perfectly, and VMware acquired enormous popularity since its introduction in 1998. From a family-owned company, VMware went a long way to become one of the largest virtual service providers in the world. VMware changed ownership twice — it was sold to EMC in 2004 and acquired by Dell in 2015. In 2021, VMware is on its way to part from Dell and become one of the most powerful virtual enterprises in the world.

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